The legendary TV sleuth Columbo used to question witnesses to a crime he was investigating by confronting them brusquely: "Just give me the facts," he would say. He was not interested in hearing conflicting subjective accounts of the kind that appear in Akira Kurosawa's famous film "Rashomon," where each of the witnesses to a crime gave his subjective impression in mutually contradictory ways. The facts, that is all he wanted to hear. The facts, that is what is required of those who teach history to our children in school when they teach the history of Israel's War of Independence.
Some years ago, the Ministry of Education instructed schools to teach our children the "Palestinian narrative" in addition to the Jewish (Israeli? ) narrative of the events of Israel's War of Independence. Now that this instruction has been countermanded, a demand is voiced by some that the "Palestinian narrative" nevertheless continue to be taught in our schools. Are there really two narratives which our children should be taught? Is history no more than a collection of conflicting narratives?
The "narrative" mode of history is something of recent vintage, a fad not likely to persist. It is the facts that we want our children to be taught in history lessons. There may be different interpretations of certain events that may need to be elaborated, even when the events themselves have been established beyond doubt. It is only when the actual course of events has been difficult or impossible to ascertain that there is room for presenting different versions.
As a matter of fact, the narrative form of teaching history seems to have struck root primarily in Israel. Would anyone suggest that in American schools the "Japanese narrative" of the American-Japanese conflict during World War II be taught alongside the "American narrative"? Is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 no more than the American version? Or how about teaching in Russian schools the "German narrative" of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941? This seems too preposterous to contemplate.
So why is this happening in Israel? Yes, there is a "Palestinian narrative" of the 1948 war, and it is called "Nakba." But as every student of that war and the still-living witnesses know only too well, the Nakba version is no more than a pack of lies. No juggling and politicized interpretations of the events of that war, in which one percent of the Jewish population fell fighting against the Arab attack, can change the fact that the Arab world - the local Arab militias and the regular armies of the neighboring Arab countries, plus Iraqi forces - attempted to destroy the Jewish State in a war they started immediately after the UN resolution dividing western Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in November 1947.
Six thousand Jews - soldiers and civilians - fell in that war fighting against the Arab onslaught. Where the Arabs were successful the Jewish population was killed or deported, and all Jewish property was destroyed. What happened in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and in the Etzion bloc in May 1948 when they fell to the Jordanian Legion was a portent of the fate that awaited the entire Jewish community had the Arabs won this war. All this has been effaced in the "Palestinian narrative."
Is it suggested that this falsification of history should be taught to schoolchildren - Jews and Arabs - in Israel?
It is true that the Arab population of Palestine suffered grievously during that war. But it is also beyond doubt that this tragedy was brought on them by the decisions taken by the Arab leadership. It is essential that this part of the history of Israel's War of Independence, of the "Israeli narrative" if you like, be taught in our schools to Jewish and Arab children alike. And if true peace is ever to reign among Israel and its Arab neighbors, it is important that the Arabs recognize that what they call the Nakba was a self-inflicted tragedy.
Just as real peace could come to Europe after World War II only after Germans abandoned the "German narrative" and accepted the true history of the war that Germany started, so only abandonment of the "Palestinian narrative" and acceptance of the true sequence of the events of 1947-48 can serve as a basis for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.